Reviews and Critiques by Rictor Norton

Zarathustra's Secret

A review of Zarathustra's Secret: The Interior Life of Friedrich Nietzsche by Joachim Köhler (Yale Universityu Press, 2002)

I cannot help but wonder what is worse: being a repressed homosexual, or being a German philosopher. To be both, as Lady Bracknell might have said, seems like carelessness. The secret revealed by Joachim Köhler's psychosexual biography of the author of such seminal philosophical works as The Birth of Tragedy, Beyond Good and Evil, Thus Spake Zarathustra and the aptly-named Ecce homo, is that Nietzsche's Superman was, at heart, a Superpoof.

Nietzsche's upbringing was so spartan, it is no surprise he dreamt of Dionysus. The early madness and death of his father did not help the adolescent get to grips with his proclivities, and his own mental breakdown has not helped the modern biographer untangle the labyrinth of his inner life. Whereas some early biographers pointed to Nietzsche’s unconscious homosexuality, Köhler maintains that he was aware of his urges, that he acted upon them (and even went on queer binges), that he felt guilty over them, and that he finally overturned the whole of modern morality in order to embrace them without shame.

Despite some over-interpretation and an annoying nudge-nudge, wink-wink air of being let into the philosopher’s dirty little secrets, Köhler presents a plausible case study. Nietzsche scorned the idea of sex with women. He masturbated with the help of homosexual fantasies. He contracted syphilis in a homosexual brothel. His disciples were themselves homosexually inclined, or sexually desired by him. He was a sadomasochist who wanted to be loved, violently, by a man of steel. Behind the disguise of his enormous walrus moustache, Nietzsche was a passive, effeminate queer. Many of his contemporaries knew he was a pervert – Cosima and Richard Wagner, his doctors, his intellectual colleagues, even his neighbours. He moved often, to escape exposure and, possibly, criminal prosecution. And, in his philosophy, he designed an elaborate code to reveal himself only to acolytes fit to join his secret brotherhood. (Ronald Taylor's translation from the German is outstanding.)


(This review was originally published in London's Gay Times in August 2002. Copyright 2001, 2014 Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.)

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